Putin denies knowledge of Trump son-in-law back channel proposal

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WASHINGTON: Russian President Vladimir Putin says he has no knowledge of a reported pre-inauguration proposal by President Donald Trump’s son in law and top aide Jared Kushner to set up a secret, bug-proof communications channel with the Kremlin.

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In an interview aired Sunday on NBC, Putin again flatly denied US intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia meddled via hacking and other means in the US election to help Trump win. He said there may have been non-Russian hackers from anywhere that simply blamed Russia.

This charge — and even more damning suggestions that the Trump administration actually colluded in such an effort — are at the core of a high stakes probe by a US special counsel and congressional committees. Trump’s most ardent critics are already talking of impeachment.

Putin also said he had no idea if the Russian ambassador to Washington had held contacts with the Trump campaign before the November election.

“I’m being honest. Do you think that from all over the world and the United States, the ambassador reports to me every day who he eats with or meets with,” said Putin.

And Putin denied that Russia had any information on Trump to influence him.

“Well, this is just another load of nonsense. Where would we get this information from? Did we have a special relationship with him? We didn’t have any relationship at all. … Have you all lost your senses over there?” Putin asked.

The Washington Post has reported that in a New York meeting in December with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergei Kislyak, the 36 year old Kushner suggested setting up a back channel of communications with Moscow.

Putin, in the interview with journalist Megyn Kelly in St. Petersburg, said: “I don’t know about this proposal. No proposal like that came to me.”

Putin said that, had there been a proposal and it were appealing to the Russians, his foreign minister would have told him.

“There wasn’t anything to talk about,” Putin said through an interpreter.

“For me, this is just amazing. You create a sensation out of nothing and out of this sensation, you turn it into a weapon of war against the current president. Well, this is, you know, you’re just, you people are so creative over there. Good job. Your lives must be boring,” said Putin.

Putin also said he had only a brief and passing acquaintance with former US national security adviser Michael Flynn, though the two sat next to each other at a dinner in Moscow in 2015.

Putin minimized his contact with Flynn, who was fired by Trump in February after offering misleading descriptions of conversations he had had before the inauguration with ambassador Kislyak.

A routine meeting

Putin told Kelly that the dinner where the two met was routine.

“I made my speech. Then we talked about some other stuff. And I got up and left. And then afterward I was told, ‘You know, there was an American gentleman, he was involved in some things. He used to be in the security services.'”

“That’s it,” Putin said. “I didn’t even really talk to him. That’s the extent of my acquaintance with Mr. Flynn.”

Pictures show the two men at a table for 10 at an event sponsored by Russian television network RT, which French President Emmanuel Macron has denounced as a source of “lying propaganda” in the recent French election.

The contacts Flynn and other Trump aides had with Russian officials and bankers are drawing intense scrutiny, particularly after US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian hackers meddled in the American election.

When the Senate intelligence committee in May demanded that Flynn provide a list of any contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign and transition, Flynn invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused.

Trump has strongly defended Flynn, saying his former aide was the victim of a witch hunt.

Senators will be grilling fired FBI chief James Comey on Thursday about an Oval Office meeting in February at which, Comey later told aides, Trump asked him to end the investigation into Flynn and possible Russia links. He quotes Trump as saying, “I hope you can let this go.” AFP

AFP/CC

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